I have always loved a good stretch, especially on the tail end of a great massage. So naturally, doing yoga would also feel good, so I thought. The number of times I have stopped and started with practicing yoga has been too many to count. Mostly I stop. When I thought about why, I realized I did not like the group dynamic of a class (I have tried them all and I do not follow a leader very well). Like anything else, at least I thought that was what was going on. So, I bought a yoga mat, some blocks and straps and some books on it. I bought the yoga bible, Light on Yoga, and committed to reading and doing.
When I started doing yoga in the comfort of my own home with the privacy I sought and I was my own leader, I stopped. Here I go again. Why? It wasn’t the group dynamic. It wasn’t a lack of knowledge on the subject, there were no other obstacles, so I thought. After giving up on it for a while, I paid no mind to it and then it hit me…I was the obstacle. I did not like not being good at yoga. I did not like the discomfort of certain poses or my lack of balance or my stiffness. I did not like the lack of results, mastery or progress. The answer was so simple, yet so damn difficult to overcome. As Ryan Holiday says, “The Obstacle is the Way”. I was the obstacle and the only way through, was through me.
With some good advice from a few wise people, the onset of quarantine and my daughter’s urging to do some yoga together. I struck out anew and started in with a few simple moves I was good at (I can do a great downward dog and my pigeon is not to be beat). My daughter and I watched her 7 minute yoga video with 4 basic moves and we started a morning practice. At first, it was laughable, I was bored with the moves and the practice and did not think this was what was going to get me to yoga mastery.
What I discovered, surely enough, in those mornings were the elements of what was keeping me at bay and unable to really dig in with mastery. I realized that the simplicity and child level elements were just a first step of creating the habit and of having success. I also realized that the repetition of the same moves and the same video started to ingrain in my consciousnesses the elements of the next level Before I knew it, I was adding elements I was good at and some I was not so good at and some that were not even yoga moves but felt like a good fit for the routine.
Now every day, at some point in the day, I put on a song (about 15 minutes long) and start my routine. It opens me up, it helps me focus and it feels lifting. And, I keep adding to it.
Here are my suggestions on how to start a yoga practice and learn through the process of the things you are uncomfortable with. These are not specific moves or instructions on how to get yourself into a frog pose, etc… but it is a simple method for creating practice.
- Get a good mat. Though not necessary, I find it helps with my slipping and traction on certain moves.
- Find a song you enjoy, the longer the better as you build your routine you won’t have to change the song. I have used traditional kirtans as I find them mesmerizing, but a good long jazz improvisation (So What Live by Miles Davis is simply amazing) or if you are into it, Stairway to Heaven would work, too. It is really up to you.
- As you get more and more practiced with your favorite moves, the song will have cues as to the pace of your routine. Also by choosing a song length which you feel you can commit to allows your brain to focus on the routine and not on the 17, 000 emails and texts which arrived in your inbox before you even woke up. You can say to yourself, this is the 13 mins and 53 seconds I am going to give to this. I can do anything for 15 minutes, except maybe stare at a pint of McConnell’s Toasted Almond Coconut Chip ice cream without eating it.
- Pick 5 moves that you can do very slowly and statically. Easy peesy, lemon squeezy. Child’s pose, cat – cow, downward & upward dog, and savasana are great. Just start doing them. These are easy enough to not get injured and to have success.
- For the first three mornings, do not worry about right or wrong and you do not have to do them for all of the length of your song. Just do them and hold each pose for at least 5 long deep breaths in and out.
- At this stage, do not worry about whether you should inhale or exhale or when, etc… just do the moves.
- On the fourth day, start to pay attention to your body to the subtlety of the positions you are performing. Do you feel aligned? Is there tightness? Is there a better placement of my foot or hand? Can I go deeper into the move? Sink lower? Stretch deeper? Where does it hurt? Pull back from the point! You will always get better and hurt less.
- Do this for a week or so until you feel like you understand the position, the alignment and your breath. A note on breath, just to make it simple, anytime you are first expanding (reaching out or up), you should breath in. Any time you are first contracting (folding your body) you should breath out. Super simple. Obviously, you keep breathing even while you are in a pose but do not expand (reaching) or contract (folding) without breathing in or out, respectively.
- After a week, start to extend the practice. Do each position longer and add a few moves. Perhaps Sun Salutations, Pigeon, these stretches, etc.. Do this for 2 weeks straight If you miss a day, no big deal, just do not miss two days in a row.
- At the end of your song or routine, just sit for a second with legs crossed and put your hands on your chest, take a long slow deep breath and say thank you to yourself.
- Lastly, I find that rewarding myself with something small right after this helps to condition the habit. I like a small swig of chocolate milk (this is my primal reward for doing just about anything I do not want to do – writing, running, biking, yoga, etc…) After a few weeks, I start to like the activity and the chocolate milk reward goes away.
I think you will find that if you do this for the 3+ weeks above you will want to know and do more all on your own and your practice will expand and develop. For more advanced yoga suggestions, other fun techniques and resources, hop on over here.